Inspirational messages and everyday food for thought are prominent components of Garden City Community College football coach Jeff Sims’ social media presence.
Some are impeccably timed, like his Twitter offering two weeks ago: “If we don’t let go of the old, we’ll never be able to embrace the new.”
That could be the mantra for most junior college coaches, who operate in a transient world full of annual turnover. But it definitely rings true at Garden City, where the reigning NJCAA champion Broncbusters will start their title defense Thursday night against Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College.
Nine months after a thrilling 25-22 victory over Arizona Western in the El Toro Bowl, which gave Garden City an 11-0 record and its first national football title, the Busters begin the 2017 season as Jayhawk Conference favorites and No. 3 in the NJCAA preseason poll.
It’s the type of respect afforded a program with Garden’s recent history. But with several key players from last year’s team moving on to four-year programs and another – defensive lineman Jeremy Faulk – in the New York Jets camp, there’s no such thing as a sure thing for the Busters.
“As of today, I will tell you that there’s no way we’re the best football team in this room,” Sims told a crowd that included the conference’s other head coaches at Jayhawk media day last month in Wichita. “I’ve listened to who you guys got and I know who we have.
“There’s absolutely no way we’re the best football team in this room.”
With two returning starters on offense and two on defense, Sims’ case heading into fall camp was strong. Garden City, with standouts like Faulk, All-American defensive end Jamie Tago and All-American cornerback Mike Hughes, led the nation last season in scoring defense at 9.1 points allowed.
The Busters return defensive lineman Kahewai Kaaiawaawa and linebacker Rayshawn Wilborn. Help is expected from Virginia transfer Matt Terrell, a linebacker who played in nine games for the Cavaliers last season, and defensive back Meiko Dotson, a Georgia Tech transfer.
Offensively, Garden City returns its top receiver in Daniel Davis, who caught 32 passes a year ago, and Edward Manase, who can play fullback or on the offensive line. But departures like running back Tra Minter, who transferred to South Alabama after rushing for 1,255 yards and 10 touchdowns, will need to be filled.
On Monday, the Busters got a boost at the position by signing Dedrick Mills, a Georgia Tech transfer who rushed for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman. Mills was dismissed from Tech for violating team rules.
Sims spent the early part of the 2016 season trying to find the right fit at quarterback before Andover Central product Peyton Huslig emerged in a 43-0 victory over Butler. Huslig seized the job and carried it through the national championship game, where he directed a game-winning, 84-yard drive that culminated with a touchdown pass to Harley Hazlett with 30 seconds remaining.
Huslig parlayed his season into a scholarship offer from Missouri State, where he transferred. The Busters will move on with Oregon transfer Terry Wilson and Rutgers transfer Tylin Oden competing with freshman Rayvon Bartlett for playing time.
“I have no idea how good a football team we’ll be…,” Sims said at media day. “But I know we’ll be ready to play Ellsworth on August 24.”
Highland at Dodge City, 6 p.m.
Ellsworth (Iowa) at Garden City, 7 p.m.
Coffeyville at Hutchinson, noon
Iowa Western at Independence, 6 p.m.
Fort Scott at Butler, 7 p.m.